1. Ride in a boat on the Seine – preferably at night! Lots of options depending on your time and budget. While a dinner cruise is lovely, a Bateau Mouche tour boat with your own bottle of wine and some cheese & crackers can be just as wonderful!
2. Hear the organ played in Notre Dame or listen to the choir practice for a mass – incredible!
3. Sip a coffee at an outdoor terrace of a café and watch the world walk by – Les Deux Magots or Café Flore are two of my favorites in Saint Germain.
4. See the stain glass windows of Saint Chapelle – the colors are exquisite.
5. Eat breakfast at Ladurée and pick up a few macarons for later!
6. Take a guided tour of the Louvre – its so immense, its nice to have someone guide you – whether its for the highlights the first time, or for a more in-‐depth look with an art historian or docent on your twentieth visit.
7. Stop to smell the roses in the Rodin Museum’s garden, or to find some shade under the trees on a hot day as you admire his sculptures: The Thinker, Gates of Hell, The Burghers of Calais. The newly refurbished museum in Rodin’s stately home offers a fascinating look at his art process.
8. Visit Versailles – I love the bike tours through the gardens. The skip the line ticket is the only way to see the Chateau unless you are visiting in the dead of winter. There is an amazing VIP tour that takes you to see some of the private rooms that can not be seen on regular public tours
9. Immerse yourself in Monet’s Water Lilies in the l’Orangerie museum. Extra bonus is taking a day trip to Giverny to see his home and to wander the gardens that inspired so many of his paintings.
10. Have a beer or a glass of wine in Montmartre – perfect people watching location, a hub of activity
11. Learn a new skill in a French cooking class. My favorite is a market-‐to-‐table class where you shop at a Farmer’s market with a chef then go cook up an amazing meal!
12. See the impressionist gallery (top floor) of the d’Orsay museum. Sip a glass of champagne and enjoy a light lunch in the dining room on the 2nd floor to cap off a visit.
13. Sit in a green metal chair in one of Paris’ gorgeous manicured parks – the Luxembourg Gardens, the Tuileries Gardens, Palais Royal are among my favorites – feel the sun shinning on my face, close my eyes for a few minutes, let it all sink in…Perfection…Paris….The way I love it.
Several years ago I sat at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, waiting impatiently for 60 long, agonizing minutes for my bags to appear on the baggage carousel – dead tired after a long overnight flight from South America. I looked enviously at the scores of commuter travellers whisking past me with their smart little carry-on suitcases. They got to stroll right through the exit doors towards waiting taxis, shuttle buses, or family, while I continued to watch for my bag to arrive. It was at that moment that I started to ponder the possibility of doing an international-flight trip with a carry-on. Could it be done? Could I, the woman who had 4 pairs of shoes with me, possibly fit it all into one bag? Then I started to think… if I had done this trip with a carry-on, I’d actually be at home right that very moment. It was then that I made a lifelong travel-altering decision – I was going to travel with carry-on baggage only!
My first step was to head to the luggage store to buy the lightest and biggest bag that the average airline will allow on board. (Please note that this does not apply to those low-cost online-only carriers that make their money in fees). China was my next international trip, and I was off to Beijing, Xining, Lhasa, Chengdu and Shanghai. The trip was in June so the weather was warm – meaning no need for bulky sweaters and pants. In other words, the perfect first trip for a carry-on novice.
So how to do this? First thing’s first – it is imperative to wear as much as possible on the flight. If you need hiking boots or clunky runners, you have to wear them. Same with jeans, shirt, hat and a light jacket. Next is to research where you’re staying.
If it is a 3-star or more, they are going to have a hairdryer, toiletries, and laundry service. Yes, you have to indulge in laundry service when working a two-week trip into one suitcase. Armed with this knowledge, you can pack bare minimum toiletries, and remember, they all have to fit neatly into see-through plastic containers that hold less than 100ml. Plus, if you need something, I have discovered after many years of travelling, you can get pretty much anything you need locally, and while it might not be quite what you are used to, consider it part of the travel experience. Once you’ve paired down the toiletries, ditched the hairdryer, and committed mentally to only two pairs of shoes, you are ready to start packing. You should be able to fit enough socks, undies, t-shirts, shorts, and a pair of pants – with a little bit of room to spare for a souvenir or two!
Here are some fantastic bonuses for traveling sans checked baggage!
Carolyn Wippler GM Sales -Goway Travel
How to use a European cash machine: Insert card, pull out cash.
By Rick Steves
Throughout Europe, ATMs are the standard way for travelers to get cash. European ATMs work like your hometown machine and always have English-language instructions. Using your debit card at an ATM takes dollars directly from your bank account at home and gives you foreign cash. You’ll pay fees, but you’ll still get a better rate than you would exchanging cash dollars at a bank. Ideally, use your debit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo to take money out of ATMs.
Before you leave on your trip, confirm with your bank that your debit card will work in Europe and alert them that you’ll be making withdrawals while traveling — otherwise, they might freeze your card if they detect unusual spending patterns.
ATM transactions made with bank-issued debit cards come with various fees. Your bank may levy a flat $2–5 transaction fee each time you use an out-of-network ATM, and/or may charge a percentage for the currency conversion (1–3 percent), on top of Visa and MasterCard’s 1 percent fee for international transactions.
When possible, withdraw your cash from bank ATMs located outside banks — a thief is less likely to target a cash machine near surveillance cameras, and if your card is munched by a machine, you can go inside for help.
Most bank ATMs in Europe don’t charge a usage fee, but stay away from “independent” ATMs, which have high fees and may try to trick users with “dynamic currency conversion.” These ATMs (labeled with names such as Travelex, Euronet, Moneybox, Cardpoint, and Cashzone) are often found next to bank ATMs in the hope that travelers will be too confused to notice the difference.
If your US bank charges a flat fee per transaction, make fewer visits to the ATM and withdraw larger amounts. (Some major US banks partner with European bank chains, meaning that you can use those ATMs with no fees at all — ask your bank.) Quiz your bank to figure out exactly what you’ll pay for each withdrawal.
Since European keypads have only numbers, you’ll need to know your personal identification number (PIN) by number rather than by letter. Plan on being able to withdraw money only from your checking account. You are unlikely to be able to dip into your savings account or transfer funds between accounts from a European ATM.
Bringing an extra ATM card provides a backup if one is demagnetized or eaten by a machine. Make sure your card won’t expire before your trip ends. You do not need a chip-and-PIN card to use a European ATM — your standard magnetic stripe card will work fine.
Before you go, ask your bank how much you can withdraw per 24 hours, and consider adjusting the amount. Some travelers prefer a high limit that allows them to take out more cash at each ATM stop, while others prefer to set a lower limit as a security measure, in case their card is stolen. To avoid excess per-transaction fees, I usually go with a higher maximum. Either way, it’s a good idea to monitor your account while traveling to detect any unauthorized transactions.
Remember that you’re withdrawing a different currency than dollars; for example, if your daily limit is $300, withdraw just 200 euros. Many frustrated travelers have walked away from ATMs thinking their cards were rejected, when actually they were asking for more cash in euros than their daily limit allowed.
Be aware that many foreign ATMs have their own limits. If the ATM won’t let you withdraw your daily maximum, you’ll have to make several smaller withdrawals to get the amount you want. Note that few ATM receipts list the exchange rate, and some machines don’t dispense receipts at all.
In some countries (especially in Eastern Europe), an ATM may give you high-denomination bills, which can be difficult to break. My strategy: Request an odd amount of money from the ATM (such as 2,800 Czech koruna instead of 3,000). If the machine insists on giving you big bills, go to a bank or a major store to break them.
If you’re looking for an ATM, ask for a distributeur in France, a “cashpoint” in the UK, and a Bankomat just about everywhere else. Many European banks have their ATMs in a small entry lobby, which protects users from snoopers and bad weather. When the bank is closed, the door to this lobby may be locked. In this case, look for a credit-card-size slot next to the door. Simply insert or swipe your debit or credit card in this slot, and the door should automatically open.
Card Fees (and How to Avoid Them)
Credit cards are of course incredibly useful overseas — but often come with unexpected extra costs. By Rick Steves
Travelers returning from Europe often open their mail to discover they paid more for their trip than they thought they had. Over the last decade, banks have dramatically increased their fees for overseas transactions. While these fees are legal, they’re basically a slimy way for credit-card companies to wring a few more dollars out of their customers.
Visa and MasterCard levy a 1 percent fee on international transactions, and some banks that issue those cards also tack on a currency conversion fee (additional 1–3 percent). These are similar to the fees associated with using your debit card for ATM withdrawals.
So, how can a smart traveler avoid — or at least reduce — these fees? Here are a few suggestions.
Ask about fees. Banks are required to break out international transaction fees as line-items on your statement, helping you to see exactly what you’re paying. But by the time you get your statement, it’s too late — so it’s smart to make a call before your trip to get the whole story. Quiz your bank or credit-card company about the specific fees that come with using their card overseas.
If you’re getting a bad deal, get a new card. Some companies offer lower international fees than others — and some don’t charge any at all. If you’re going on a long trip, do some research and consider taking out a card just for international purchases. Capital One has a particularly good reputation for no-fee international transactions on both its credit cards and its debit cards linked to a checking account. Most credit unions have low-to-no international transaction fees. Bankrate has a good comparison chart of major credit cards and their currency-conversion fees.
Avoid dynamic currency conversion (DCC). Some European merchants — capitalizing on the fact that many Americans are intimidated by unusual currencies — cheerfully charge you for converting their prices to dollars before running your credit card. Dynamic currency conversion may seem like a nice perk, but you’ll actually end up paying more. The dollar price is usually based on a lousy exchange rate set by the merchant — and to make matters worse, even though you’re paying in “dollars,” your credit-card issuer may still levy its standard foreign-transaction fee. The result: the “convenience” of seeing your charge in dollars comes at a premium.
Some merchants may disagree, but according to DCC provider Planet Payment, you have the right to decline this service at the store and have your credit-card transaction go through in the local currency. If you’re handed a receipt with two totals — one in the local currency and the other in US dollars — circle or check the amount in the local currency before you sign. If your receipt shows the total in dollars only, ask that it be rung up again in the local currency.
Independent ATMs may also try to confuse customers by presenting DCC in misleading terms. If an ATM offers to “lock in” or “guarantee” your conversion rate, choose “proceed without conversion.” Other prompts might say “You can be charged in dollars: Press YES for dollars, NO for euros.” Always choose the local currency in these situations.
Don’t bother with prepaid cards. It’s possible to buy prepaid “cash cards” — which you load with funds before you leave, then use like any other credit or debit card — but they come with high fees and aren’t worth considering for most trips.
The Bottom Line: Here’s the best formula for saving money as you travel. Pay for most items with cash (use a bank that charges low rates for international ATM transactions, and withdraw large amounts at each transaction — keeping the cash safe in your money belt). When using a credit card, use a card with low international fees, and make sure your transactions are charged in the local currency — not dollars. Then smile and enjoy your trip, feeling very clever for avoiding so much unnecessary expense.
My mom and I are planning a trip to Europe this April/May. I'm looking for a great credit card with a chip, so I can use abroad and with no foreign transaction fees. I plan to pay the card off once I'm back from the trip. From what's listed above, the Capital One Venture card seems like the best fit, is this correct?
That's a good option especially since Capital One has no foreign transaction fee, but *also* eats the Visa/MasterCard 1% currency conversion fee (not all cards without a foreign transaction fee will do that).
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